Donte Chase Bridges| October 19th
“Too many foster kids are scared, neglected, lonely, and abused.” – NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal
As the lights dimmed to set the tone of the theater, and the crowd relaxed in their seats in anticipation for what was to come, a powerful scene of a young black boy being pent down and brutally assaulted flashed on the screen, as if to prepare the audience for the emotional roller-coaster they were about to face. “Children are not products!” shouted the judge – played by legendary actor Louis Gossett Jr. The crowd flinched at the strong statement, reacting to the words any decent human being was born knowing.
These were the visceral reactions shared by all who viewed this stand-out indie film, exposing the horrors young children go through in the For-profit Foster Care System.
“Foster kids are not just someone else’s kids – they’re our kids. There is so much we can do to help them, but it all starts with shining a light on their circumstances. That’s why I am so proud to be both an executive and presenting producer of Foster Boy,” said Executive Producer Shaquille O’Neal
On Friday, October 18th, Executive Producer Shaquille O’Neal, partnered with Screenwriter and Chicago based Attorney Jay Paul Deratany, hosted a private screening of their ground-breaking film Foster Boy (based on the true story) at Pritzker Military & Museum Library, and located 104 S. Michigan Avenue, near Chicago’s south-loop downtown area.
I had a chance to sit down with Jay Paul Deratany and have an insightful conversation about his inspiration for creating the film Foster Boy, a gripping tale of a young teenager’s struggle through the dark side of the For-profit Foster Care System.
SCENE: Tell us about some of your career experiences as an attorney dealing with the issues of foster care?
Jay Paul Deratany: I was placed on a case where a foster kid went into the home and another foster kid sexually abuse that kid. I didn’t know how to go about trying this case. But… then… I did some more research and found out that the foster parents knew about the abuse all along. The oldest boy had sexually abused other foster children and should never have been placed in the home to start. I’ve done work in Ohio and Illinois, and I’ve come to realize that these kids have no voice; these kids have no lobby, and in my opinion, the answer is to get rid of the for-profit foster care system. Children are not products!
SCENE: Did the Jay Foster Case give you inspiration to create a story this gripping?
Jay Paul Deratany: Yes… but, this case is an amalgamation of three or four cases I’ve handled. The story is about a lawyer who doesn’t want to be on the case, who was a corporate Guy (Matthew Modine), and he was probably a little bit insensitive to African Americans. He never really paid attention to what African Americans were going through. Then, the judge – play by Louis Gossett Jr. – assigns him a case, and at first the child doesn’t like the lawyer, and the lawyer doesn’t like him; but, they end up building a bond and going after the For-profit Foster System.
SCENE: At what point did you decide to turn your legal experience into pursuing screenwriting?
Jay Paul Deratany: When I went to Michigan State, I studied writing, but I went to law school because at that time in the 80s you had to be more practical. But, in my mid-forties I started to get back into writing, and I decided to get my MFA degree. My professor used to tell me, “Write what you know; write what impassions you,” and seeing foster care every day, that’s what impassioned me. That’s why I decided to write Foster boy.
SCENE: How did you collaborate with Shaquille O’Neal in making this film?
Jay Paul Deratany: First of all, Shaquille O’Neal is an amazing human being; he has over a hundred and fifty businesses. People only think of athletes as being athletic, but don’t realize how smart they are. Shaquille has a doctorate degree, so his name is “Doctor Shaq”. But, he is also humble and he’s really a gem of a human being. Shaquille O’Neal saw a rough draft of the movie and said he didn’t know that there was a For-profit Foster Care System, and he didn’t know there were so many foster kids being abused in the system. He said he wanted in, and he wanted to help the kids.
SCENE: What is the overall message you would like to get across in this film “Foster Boy”?
Jay Paul Deratany: There are some wonderful foster parents, and there are some not-so-good ones. Sometimes, people should consider taking a foster kid that maybe isn’t a baby. People can become foster parents; it’s not as hard as you think. Another thing, we want to get rid of for-profit foster care, which is regulated in 28 of the states. There shouldn’t be any For-profit Foster Care; there shouldn’t be any For-profit Prison Systems. Often, children show up with no lawyer for themselves in foster situations. We have to improve the guardians that have them for the advocacy for children.
SCENE: What are some words of wisdom you would like to leave the viewers that you’ve learned in your life?
Jay Paul Deratany: I guess what I would say overall is that we need a lot of love in our system, we need a lot of love in our country. So as a plot line in the movie, it really shows how we look at each other racially. We need more love. We need to look at each other and see each other. We need to start looking at these children as our kids. When a child becomes a foster kid, he becomes a ward of the state. But we are the state. So, we need to look at this as if we are their parents because we are. We need to look at these 440,000 children as our kids.
For more information go https://www.fosterboy.com/
Photographer Credits: Peter Staudinger